Let's review our outline one last time:
- The beginning - 1:1-3:38
- Jesus in Galilee - 4:1-9:50
- Jesus facing Jerusalem - 9:51-18:30
- Jesus entering Jerusalem - 18:31-21:38
- The consummation - 22:1-24:53
I mentioned the fact that we followed a geographical outline of Jesus' ministry in our study because Luke, in wanting to establish a historical narrative of Jesus' life and ministry for his reader, Theophilus, does so by framing events in Jesus' life using two factors:
- Time - of year or festival or history depending on who ruled politically or who led religiously (i.e. governors, high priests, etc.) which can be verified historically.
- Place - where things happened so that the various incidents are grouped based on where Jesus was at the time. This is how our outline has been developed.
Unlike Matthew and Mark, and later, John, who each have a theological theme for their records (i.e. Matthew - Jesus is the Jewish Messiah; Mark - Jesus is divine; John - Jesus is both man and God), Luke's goal is to set Jesus, the Son of God, into a historical context; and for this the actual time and place where the events of Jesus' life and ministry take place need to be mentioned.
Now, as far as our study of Luke's gospel is concerned, we are reviewing the last three of the 10 final events of His Passion (suffering). The 10 passion events that Luke recounts are:
- Betrayal and arrest
- Peter's denial
- Trial before Annas, Caiaphas and the council
- Trial before Pilate - 1
- Jesus before Herod
- Trial before Pilate - 2
- Torture and cross
- Death of Jesus
- Burial of Jesus
In the previous chapter we reviewed Pilate's failed attempts to save Jesus and his cowardly acquiescence to the Jewish leaders and mob to have Jesus, a man he knew to be innocent, executed. Let us now examine the last three events in Jesus' passion of the cross, and the glorious conclusion to Luke's gospel.
The Passion, Part II – Luke 23:26-56
8. Torture and the Cross
26When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. 27And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. 28But Jesus turning to them said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.' 31For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" 32Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him.
- Luke 23:26-32
Luke forgoes any description of the scourging and psychological abuse administered by the soldiers prior to Jesus' execution. This torture, however, takes its toll as the Romans press Simon, an innocent bystander, to carry the cross for the exhausted Jesus. Mark names two of Simon's sons who later become prominent members of the church (Mark 15:21).
The women "mourning and lamenting" were expressing the traditional bewailing for a person who was as good as dead. Judging by Jesus' answer to their cries, these women were not His disciples because He tells them to stop mourning Him and begin mourning for themselves, a prophetic reference to the terrible suffering and destruction that will take place in 70 AD when the Roman army will destroy both the city and its people. The green wood mentioned is Jesus in His sinlessness and the dry wood is the Jewish nation in its guilt. The inferred question is, "If this is what happens to the innocent, imagine what will happen to the guilty?"
Luke mentions the two criminals that Pilate sends to be executed with Jesus. This is done as a show of contempt for the Jews (i.e. this is what I think of your king).
9. The Crucifixion (23:33-49)
Note that Luke's description of this event is entirely made up of reactions, not actions.
When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left.
- Luke 23:33
The opening verse sets the scene in the briefest way possible: Jesus is crucified with thieves crucified to His right and left. Perhaps Luke knew that his Gentile reader was familiar with this Roman style of execution and needed no explanations.
But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
- Luke 23:34
Jesus will speak several times, but His first reaction is to plead to God on behalf of those who have put Him on this cross. God answered this prayer because a few weeks later Peter would be offering God's forgiveness to these very same people as he preached the gospel from the Pilgrim Gate at the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-42). Who knows how many in this crowd at the cross were among the 3000 baptized on Pentecost Sunday?
The clothing and effects of the condemned were the property of the soldiers tasked with the execution.
And the people stood by, looking on.
- Luke 23:35a
Luke will mention the crowd later on, but at the moment he says that they are mainly quiet. Now that the awful reality of what they had demanded stands before them, they are reduced to silence. After all, crucified and slowly dying in excruciating pain before their eyes was not a murderer or thief but the teacher from Galilee, a Jew like themselves, put to death before them by pagan soldiers.
And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One."
- Luke 23:35b
The ones who spoke did so in cruelty actually mocking a dying man. They use His crucifixion as the final evidence for their accusation that He was an imposter. "If He is the Messiah (Christ of God) let Him save Himself from this execution." The insinuation is that since He cannot do this it proves that His claim of saving others is also false. The blasphemy here is not only against the Son but also against the Father who has sent the Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10; John 20:21).
36The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!" 38Now there was also an inscription above Him, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."
- Luke 23:36-38
The soldiers' insults are directed at Jesus but meant for the Jewish people as a whole. Being stationed in Judea was not the best assignment. These men were far from Rome and Roman society, among a rebellious people with a fanatical devotion to their strange religion. The inscription above the cross said, "This is the king of the Jews," but the sentiment behind the inscription said, "This is what we think of and what we do to anyone who declares that he is the king of the Jews or king of anything else for that matter." It was a brutal show of force and a warning by the Imperial Roman Army to other would-be troublemakers.
The Two Thieves
39One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" 40But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 42And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" 43And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."
- Luke 23:39-43
Luke spends time describing the reaction of the two convicted thieves hung on either side of Him. Matthew and Mark say that Jesus was being reviled by both thieves at first. We get an idea of what was being said since Luke preserves some of the dialogue. One thief incorporates what the Jewish leaders are saying by goading Jesus to save Himself along with both of them, if He is indeed the Messiah. We often think that the other thief did nothing special in coming to Christ, he simply asked and was saved. However, the change of heart in defending Jesus required him to rebuke the other criminal and contradict the soldiers as well as the Jewish leaders in order to ask the Lord for mercy. He was a thief, but somehow he knew of the kingdom to come (as a Jew he was probably referring to the kingdom at the end of the world) and he wanted to be part of that.
We note that Jesus promises the thief that he would be in Paradise (heaven) with Him (Jesus) that very day. In saying this, Jesus not only forgives the man his sins but also utters a prophecy. Normally it took three to four days for a person to die from crucifixion, however, the Jews had Pilate instruct his soldiers to break the legs of the men on the cross in order to hasten their death since it was unacceptable to have a public execution on the Sabbath. Once their legs were broken the crucified men could not support themselves to breathe so they quickly died of suffocation. The thief had no way of knowing that he would die so soon and thus be with Jesus on that same day, making Jesus' words both an absolution of sin as well as a prophecy.
The argument that the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized thus nullifying the need for baptism in the process of salvation is answered in the following way:
In the gospel of Mark we read about the time when Jesus healed a paralytic and also forgave his sins.
10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—He said to the paralytic, 11"I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home."
- Mark 2:10-11
While among us Jesus often forgave sins by the simple exercise of His will. He, as the Son of God, had the divine authority to grant this and we see Him doing for the thief on the cross what He did for the paralytic (simply forgive his sins without reference to baptism). However, after His resurrection and before His ascent into heaven He left His Apostles with final instructions concerning salvation now that He would no longer be on earth with them in bodily form. These instructions included the baptism (immersion) in water of repentant believers.
18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
- Matthew 28:18-19
15And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:15-16
We note that Peter follows these instructions when he preaches his first sermon on Pentecost Sunday.
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38
It is fitting that Jesus' final act of ministry before His death would be the transfer of one more repentant believer from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (heaven/paradise - Colossians 1:13).
44It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." Having said this, He breathed His last. 47Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, "Certainly this man was innocent."
- Luke 23:44-47
Luke only describes two of the signs that occurred at Jesus' death:
- Darkness - from noon until three in the afternoon, as a sign of divine judgment for what has taken place - the execution of the Son of God, the light of the world.
- Tearing of the veil - inside the temple itself there was a heavy veil that separated the inner room (Holy of Holies) from the outer room (Holy Place). The Ark of the Covenant covered by the "mercy seat" was inside the Holy of Holies where the High Priest would enter once per year to offer sacrifices making atonement for his sins and those of the people. The significance of the torn curtain was that there would no longer be a restriction (symbolized by the curtain) to the throne of God's grace (represented by the Holy of Holies where God met with the high priest once per year). The way was now open and accessible to all through faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-20).
Matthew (Matthew 27:50-53) records that there was also an earthquake at that time, and after His resurrection many other believers were raised from the dead and appeared to people in Jerusalem. Luke reports that after witnessing Jesus' death on the cross, the centurion in charge of the detail is himself converted. Mark quotes him as saying, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 15:39). So the Jews were silent and the Jewish leaders were cruel and mocking, but the actual crucifixion brought two sinful souls to salvation: the thief who died with Jesus and the centurion who executed them both.
The Jewish Crowds
And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts.
- Luke 23:48
The people who had rejected Jesus now mourned His passing. Luke notes that they came out to see a show/spectacle, but were less enthusiastic after actually witnessing the cruelty and brutality of Jesus' execution.
The Believers and Disciples
And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee were standing at a distance, seeing these things.
- Luke 23:49
There is no comment as to their feelings or expressed thoughts, only that they were witnesses of Jesus' death. Notice that Luke does not include the names or references to any of the Apostles that may have been present.
The Burial (23:50-56)
Luke only mentions Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin who had not supported the condemnation of Jesus, as the one who buried the Lord. He also refers to the women who noted the place of burial with plans to return after the Sabbath had passed to properly prepare the Lord's body for its repose. Luke may have limited this information sensing that Theophilus, a Gentile, would have little interest in the details of Jewish burial customs.
1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; 5and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? 6He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, 7saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." 8And they remembered His words, 9and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.
- Luke 24:1-12
There are many artistic renditions of Jesus' resurrection showing frightened soldiers fleeing or an angel rolling away the stone in order to free the Lord from the tomb. The biblical sequence, however, is the following:
- Early Sunday morning Jesus resurrects and leaves the tomb. No one is aware of this. None of the gospels describe the event, only the things that happened afterwards to prove that the resurrection actually took place.
- There was an earthquake which coincided with the descent of an angel who rolled away the stone covering the tomb's entrance in order to show that it was already empty (not to let Jesus out), and the angel then sitting on that stone.
- The soldiers guarding the tomb fainted.
- The women arrive and find the tomb empty, which is where Luke picks up his story.
- The angel speaks to the women (Luke adds that there were two angels) and confirms that Jesus previously spoke of His resurrection while He was alive. The women then leave to find the Apostles in order to tell them what they have seen.
- Luke reports that there is disbelief among the Apostles at this news but nevertheless Peter and John rush to the tomb to see for themselves.
After these events take place, the gospel writers (and Paul) will record a number of other appearances by the risen Jesus to various individuals:
- Mary Magdalene – Mark 16:9, John 20:11-18
- Other women – Matthew 28:8-10
- Peter – Luke 24:34
- Two disciples on the road to Emmaus – Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-35
We no longer know where Emmaus is located, but it is estimated that it was some five to seven miles from Jerusalem. Luke writes that two disciples were on their way home discussing what they had recently witnessed in Jerusalem. Jesus joined them at some point but they were prevented from recognizing Him. They tell Him that they were hoping Jesus would have been the Messiah, but now that He has been tortured and killed, they are not so sure. They hoped that the Messiah would be like David, a great warrior king. In the Old Testament, however, Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1-12) presented the Messiah as a figure of suffering and servanthood (many Jews see this as a personification of their nation as a whole, even to this day).
Jesus explains to these disciples that the Messiah would have two profiles:
- Suffering Servant - Jesus' suffering was not a failure or mistake but, according to Isaiah, a complete fulfillment of the Messiah's mission.
- Glorious Savior - As David defeated Israel's enemies, Jesus with His death and resurrection will defeat mankind's greatest enemy: death.
When darkness approached, Jesus went into their home to share a meal. As He broke and blessed the bread, Luke describes the moment that "...their eyes were opened," and they recognized Him at which point He vanished from their sight. The disciples are filled with joy and return to Jerusalem that very night to tell the Apostles of their experience.
The Apostles, the Disciples From Emmaus and Other Disciples - Luke 24:36-49
Luke couples the appearance of Jesus to the disciples from Emmaus to His next appearance before these same disciples now that they have returned to Jerusalem to find the Apostles.
36While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be to you." 37But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43and He took it and ate it before them.
- Luke 24:36-43
The Lord confirms the witness of these two as well as that of the women by now appearing to the Apostles while they are together, and we find out from Mark and John (Mark 16:14, John 20:24-31) that only Thomas was not present.
In verses 44-49, Jesus provides for the Apostles the teaching and information He had given to the two disciples from Emmaus. Luke also gives a short summary of the great commission which is more fully stated in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:16-18. At this appearance Luke sets up a bridge for the next letter that he will write to Theophilus called, the Acts of the Apostles. He does so by noting Jesus' instruction to the Apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they receive power from on high. Luke includes no further information and leaves his reader anxious to see what this might mean. Other appearances by Jesus, but not recorded by Luke were:
- Thomas (John 20:24-31)
- The Apostles together in Galilee (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:16-20)
- The Apostles at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-25)
- Non-gospel appearances (I Corinthians 15:6-8)
- 500 disciples
- James, His earthly brother
- Paul, after His ascension
Apostles at His Ascension
50And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53and were continually in the temple praising God.
- Luke 24:50-53
Luke, as he has done throughout his gospel, mentions the place of Jesus' ascension, Bethany, only a few miles from Jerusalem. The Apostles' natural inclination when the Lord was gone the first time was to return home to family, friends and work (fishing). But Luke notes that after Jesus ascends, they return to Jerusalem where He previously instructed them to remain until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out their great commission of preaching the gospel to every tribe and tongue. In this way Luke neatly closes out his account of Jesus' life, death, resurrection and ascension, and sets the stage for the story of how the Apostles (notably Peter and Paul), through the power of the Holy Spirit, will establish the church that, 2000 years later, we are members of today.
- Which of the eight reactions to Jesus' death do you identify with most as a sinner? Why?
- Summarize as briefly as possible the answer to the "Thief on the Cross" statement that baptism is not necessary.
- In your opinion, why didn't Jesus give the leadership role in the church to women since women were far more faithful to Him than men and He appeared to women first after His resurrection.